The episode begins with a couple celebrating their anniversary by killing some walkers in the woods. The only way to commemorate the occasion. But while there’s no gift, the woman, Hilde, played by Caroline Duncan shows her boyfriend, Miles, played by Brian Sheppard, the outskirts of the Hilltop.
In due time, the two celebrate their five year anniversary as full-fledged residents of the Hilltop, which they consider their home. Miles wants Hilde to make more of them as a symbol of hope since people need plenty of that. Eventually, it’s time for them to head to the fair, so they load up and leave the Hilltop.
Sometime later, though, the wagon headed for the fair is attacked. Alpha gets to work cutting at Hilde’s scalp.
Then we arrive at the Kingdom, as Ezekiel speaks to the crowd with the fair underway. He tells them of the sacrifices that they have made and speaks of Rick’s mission to connect the communities. It took them far too long to fulfill the promise of what Rick and Carl envisioned, and what Jesus believed in when he brought them together. They’ve been bound to each other and always will be. They’ve fought back to each other.
More than that, they’ve grown. The crossing may be gone, but they’ve built a bridge nonetheless. They can reunite not against an enemy, but for a common good. So it’s time to eat, drink, trade, and be merry, because now is the moment to make up for lost time. With that, the fair begins.
Following this, Ezekiel goes to Carol, saying he wants to accompany her, but she says that the Kingdom needs him here. Before they can leave, in enters Michonne and company, including Henry, who reunites with Carol and Ezekiel.
Ezekiel is glad to see Michonne here, while Judith formally meets Ezekiel and Carol, having not seen them in years. Tara, meanwhile, isn’t glad to see Lydia here, as the plan was to just bring Henry. Michonne wants all the leaders gathered.
Inside, Michonne tells the leaders, including from Oceanside an older Rachel, now played by Avianna Mynhier, that she never stopped caring for them, even though she didn’t always see eye-to-eye with them. Alexandria’s future is with the other communities. They lost sight of that before. Gabriel and the other council members agreed to grant asylum to Lydia, and he hopes that the other communities will agree.
Tara, though, know that if Alpha retaliates, it will be against Hilltop. Michonne initially told Lydia to leave, and she didn’t trust her, but hey, Rick didn’t trust her at the prison gates, and people didn’t trust Tara when she was with the Governor. It’s a fair point. Lydia didn’t choose where she came from, but she choose where she wanted to be, like everyone else.
Because the Hilltop is short on fighters, members from the Kingdom, Oceanside, and Alexandria will head there to aid them, but that’s only a short-term solution. The four communities need to present a united front, so Michonne suggests a mutual pact. An attack against one community is an attack against them all. As for how to seal the deal, though, Ezekiel presents the charter for everyone to sign.
However, Michonne doesn’t sign. She suggests that Gabriel do it, since it should be done by the head of the council.
Following this, Henry and Lydia survey the fair, with everyone having a fun old time. Lydia wonders how the Kingdom even has room for all of this, but the Kingdom just does. Then they spot Daryl getting ready to head out. Lydia wants to go as well, saying that Hilltop is in danger because of her, but Henry takes the blame. Besides, Ezekiel won’t have Henry and Lydia leaving. He wants them both to stay for the movie.
At the very least, Henry has time to show Lydia around before they leave.
Luke and Alden speak with Enid about performing on stage, and Enid wants to see the two of them perform together. She even goes as far as calling Alden her boyfriend. Well, that seals the deal. Still, since Luke lost the bet, and Enid still wants to hear Alden sing, that can still indeed happen. We’ll see.
Connie signs to Kelly that she’s never seen Luke this happy, but Kelly is upset that Connie left without saying goodbye. To her, any goodbye could be the last and Connie could’ve died. Connie signs that she didn’t think, but the Whisperers were going to let that baby die and it brought back a lot of feelings that she thought she dealt with. She just pushed it all down. That much, Kelly understands. With that, the two hug.
Siddiq tells Michonne about Ezekiel mentioning Rick in his speech, and while Michonne likes that, she can’t stay for long because she’s headed to Hilltop. She wants Siddiq to stick to the plan and enjoy the fair. Plus, she needs him to keep an eye on Judith. He could use the experience, but he’ll tells Michonne what he means when he sees her at Hilltop.
Addy goes to Henry and apologizes for ratting him out when he was hiding with Lydia. She didn’t want him to get in trouble, but hey, things worked out in the end.
Rodney and Gage, meanwhile, greet Lydia, explaining that Addy has a thing for Henry, who may also have feelings for Henry. The two hope that Lydia don’t cause any problems.
Tara tells Dianne, Kal, and other Hilltop followers that she’ll follow up with them later, but she wants them to be safe. Connie wants Daryl to be safe, but in the meantime, he wants her to keep an eye on Dog. Well, someone has to, I guess.
Henry thanks Daryl for keeping him out of trouble, with Ezekiel reminding Daryl that the Kingdom’s doors are always open to him. He hopes that Daryl will one day call the Kingdom his home. At the very least, Daryl will think about it. Carol wants Ezekiel to enjoy the fair, even though he’s distracted, but he won’t enjoy anything until Carol is back. With that, the group leaves the Kingdom and heads for Hilltop.
Ozzy and the Highwaymen clear out some walkers in the woods, but it’s time to double back. Before they do, though, the group headed to Hilltop arrives. Angus shows them some tracks that led to the overturned Hilltop wagon. Angus got the lowdown on the Whisperers and figures that this was their work. Daryl notices a trail and sees that those attacked were dragged away.
But if the Whisperers went after Hilltop members, the community will be in danger. Carol decides that they will split up. Magna and Yumiko discuss whether the attacked even survived, but for now, they’re going to split up.
As night falls, the group of Daryl, Carol, Michonne, and Yumiko follow the trail, but walkers start streaming out of the woods. They’re careful to make sure that these aren’t Whisperers, but regardless, they soon find themselves surrounded by walkers.
No worry, though. They start cutting down every single walker that comes their way. Eventually, though, the Whisperers slip out of the darkness and surround the four. And they are armed to the teeth. Beta arrives and orders the four to drop their weapons, and he won’t ask twice. The four soon drop their weapons. He reminds Daryl that they just had to hand over Lydia, and no one else would’ve had to die. But that deal is done.
But let’s jump back to the fair. As Henry and Ezekiel bid farewell to Carol, we hear Nabila and Jerry talk about the good that Michonne has done…all while a certain someone is also present. You might think that you recognize her, but we’ll get back to her later.
Up in one of the buildings, meanwhile, Rosita pays Eugene a visit, but he’s hard at work on the radio. If he gets it up and running, the communities may be able to communicate with one another, despite the distances in-between. Rosita tells Eugene that they can still talk. Things may be changing, but they don’t need to change between them, as she knows what he did for Gabriel. Eugene saw it more as an obligation.
Then Rosita starts helping Eugene with the radio, saying this is more of a ‘have to,’ versus a ‘want to’ situation. With that, the two get to work. Rosita won’t be joining Eugene’s RPG group, though. How disappointing.
While Henry looks for Lydia, Tara speaks with Gabriel and Rachel about training the fighters from their communities. It helps them learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses. As such, they will begin once the fair ends. Tara would prefer to leave, but Gabriel knows that the Hilltop is in good hands with the people she sent.
Still, Tara wants to prove that she’s a leader who will show up. Gabriel believes that no one should doubt her leadership prowess.
So who was that mysterious person dressed like Hilde? Turns out that it was Alpha, in her clothing, disguise, and pretty much her entire look. She stalks the people at the fair and happens upon a drawing of Ezekiel and Henry. Passing behind her are Earl and Tammy.
While Alden and Luke go over their upcoming performances, Henry finally finds Lydia, who is sitting by her lonesome. He can’t believe what Rodney and Gage said since he doesn’t like Addy in that way. He likes Lydia, though. With that, the two kiss. The two hear a noise, but Henry believes that it’s just one of the pipes, so he goes off to take a look. He does want Lydia to save him a spot during the movie, though.
Alpha continues making her way through the fair when she spots Gabriel, Ezekiel, and Eugene. However, Ezekiel comes up and asks how she’s doing. Alpha introduces herself as Debra from Alexandria and she can’t believe Michonne arrived. Ezekiel apologizes for not introducing himself sooner, but that’s no problem for Debra. She admires how the Kingdom looks and he looks forward to meeting the Queen someday.
She then asks for Ezekiel to point her in the direction of the clothing booths, as she feels that it will be getting cold very soon.
Watch it, Alpha. Game of Thrones will be back in a few weeks, but not tonight.
Later on, it’s time for the movie to start. It’s a cartoon. Not even a silent movie. Not everyone is present, though. Henry hasn’t shown back up yet, but that doesn’t deter Lydia from enjoying the movie. However, when someone finally does sit next to Lydia- who is finally starting to enjoy herself- it’s not Henry, but Alpha, who merely implores her to keep quiet.
But let’s jump to another point in time. In the woods, Alpha steps forward, telling Daryl that this isn’t about Lydia. She tells them that she ran into some trouble on the road, but it was unavoidable. She’s got a new camp, as her people like to keep moving. Michonne tells Alpha that any attempt to take Lydia will result in retaliation. Alpha asks if Michonne speaks for the others, but they all speak for one another.
Lydia isn’t a concern for Alpha anymore. She was weak, in Alpha’s eyes. The survivors are in no position to make threats to Alpha, and she then wants Daryl and only Daryl to follow her.
As day breaks, Alpha leads Daryl to a cliff. Down below in the cavern is a massive herd of walkers, unlike anything that we’ve ever seen before. The Whisperers are among them, steering them around. Daryl’s friends are alive because Alpha lets them live. She sees how they live, calling their lives a joke. The Whisperers, though, live as nature intended, though Daryl sees that as bullshit.
The Whisperers follow Alpha because, well, she’s the Alpha. If there’s no Alpha, then there’s chaos. That’s why she did what she did. The friends back at the camp are fine. The next they cross into Alpha’s land, her herd will enter theirs. She has marked her border to the north, and Daryl will definitely recognize it when he sees it. For that, she tells him to leave and meet up with his friends in a field to the north.
Daryl then asks if Alpha had Lydia killed.
She didn’t. Alpha confronts Lydia, calling a traitor and saying that it’s time to come back, but Lydia refuses. All she has to do is scream, knowing that everyone here will simply kill Alpha. Lydia doesn’t want these people to hurt Alpha- she just wants her to go. She’s giving her mother a choice, which is more than what Alpha gave her. Alpha calls her daughter weak, saying that she was never one of them.
With that, Alpha departs. Back in the present, she tells Daryl that he can’t protect her daughter, but she hopes that she’s wrong. Daryl then departs. So Daryl heads back and meets up Carol, Yumiko, and Michonne as they then head back.
Back in the woods, Alpha tells Beta- who asks about Lydia- that she wants to be alone. Indeed, the Whisperer mother is now in tears. She beckons one of the nearby Whisperers to her side, and she then stabs them in the head. The Whisperer in question was carrying a crow, so I’m going to assume that, in addition to not wanting anyone to see her cry, Alpha probably hates crows.
Michonne, Yumiko, Daryl, and Carol soon find Siddiq beaten and tied to a tree. When he’s freed, he leads them to the marked point that Alpha spoke of earlier. As they head forward, they find a border marked by spikes, each of them bearing a head on top of them. And who are they?
As we see the people at the fair wonder about the whereabouts of the missing, we see that the 10 dead victims are Ozzy, Alek, Frankie, DJ, Tammy, Addy, Rodney, Enid, Tara and, to Carol’s horror, Henry.
Later on, Siddiq addresses the communities gathered together. He tells them that he was meant to die with the others and was ready to, but Alpha left him alive to tell everyone what happened. After that, he was knocked out. When he woke up, he was alone. Alpha thought this would drive them apart, but Siddiq wants to tell a different story.
Before the deaths, Ozzy, Alek, and DJ rushed in and found them all, giving them the smallest of opportunities to fight back. What they did was more than brave because they defended each other, even though they didn’t know each other. Even still, it was not enough, and they still met their ends at the hands of Alpha and her Whisperers.
Their time was cut short, but now the survivors must keep going. They need to honor the dead and remember that their friends fought as heroes. That’s the story that Siddiq wanted to tell.
Daryl brings Lydia to the border and leaves on the ground the necklace that Henry made for her. The two then head off with snow beginning to fall as the episode comes to a close.
Shit, man. I’ve been both anticipating and dreading this episode since the release of issue #144 almost four years ago. The culmination of everything that Rick and Carl fought for, the reunification of the communities, the fair bringing everyone together so they could band together as one…and to have all of that washed away in an instant due to the Whisperers.
This episode had a lot riding on it, but before really getting into the deaths, let’s talk about some character beats and moments leading up to that.
It’s good to see everyone reunited at the fair and seeing the general feeling of happiness among them. It was a literal calm before the storm, but it gave way to the communities squashing their beefs. Or, more to the point, Michonne admitting that walling off Alexandria from the rest of the world was not the best idea. She’s accepted her mistakes and has seen the light.
So it makes sense that, in light of her turning a new life, she and Gabriel would be the ones to first propose that they all pitch in to protect Lydia. She’s an outsider who has done so harm, but as we’ve seen throughout the series, that applies to damn near everyone. Good on the show to acknowledge the history, but also yeah, Rick didn’t trust Michonne and no one trusted Tara when she was working with the Governor.
It’s easy to understand where Tara is coming from, though. She has every reason to be angry. After all, it’s because of the Whisperers that Jesus is dead, thus thrusting her into the role of leader at the Hilltop. As Tammy said, everyone looked to her for leadership. She didn’t ask for that, nor was she going to just accept the idea of helping Lydia.
It’s not like everyone is forcing this decision upon her. Had Jesus not been killed, she may have been more receptive to this idea, but her wounds are still fresh…both from Jesus’ death and her own. Okay, that was wrong. But you get my point. Of the communities, Hilltop has the most reasoning to be on their guard because they’ve had the most direct interaction with the Whisperers.
Little character moments here and there helped the episode feel more complete. We get just enough with certain characters to know what’s going through their mind, such as Kelly worrying about Connie, Addy catching up with Henry, Ezekiel and Carol overjoyed to see Henry back again, and even Rosita and Eugene’s conversation as they worked on the radio.
We don’t spend a ton of time with these respective moments, and that’s okay because the episode isn’t merely about these interactions. It’s about bringing everyone together and having them all catch up now that the fair is finally underway. Even though we know that Alpha and her Whisperers are still out there, it’s a nice way to lull the audience into a false sense of security before the hammer drops.
More than that, the episode does a good job at making a case for why Lydia should stay with the survivors. There’s no place for her with Alpha anymore. With Henry’s help, she’s slowly proven herself to Daryl and the others, even though many of them never fully trusted her. But from her conversations with Henry to her laughing during the movie, we see Lydia find a new home among the communities.
It’s why she has no problem threatening to scream when Alpha finds her. She knows damn well that the survivors would kill Alpha in a heartbeat, even for the sake of another Whisperer. She’s left that life behind her.
While a bit heartbreaking for Alpha, it would be out of character if she had some breakdown. She’s the stoic Alpha. She maintains the tough, outer shell to her followers and won’t allow them, even for a moment, to witness her in a moment of weakness. It would certainly explain why she was quick to kill the nearby Whisperer that saw her cry.
Sticking with Alpha for a moment, I did like the idea of starting off with these newcomers. Even though we hadn’t seen Hilde and Miles before, we’re brought up to speed in the opening that they came across the Hilltop and became members of that community. Since they aren’t main or even side characters, that’s all we need to know. Their deaths serve as the way for Alpha to infiltrate the fair undetected.
Alright. Time to talk about the buildup to the border reveal. Going into this episode, I had some expectations. In my mind, the tension here had to be nothing short of perfect. Basically the same sort of tension we got in “Last Day on Earth” when Rick and company found themselves surrounded by the Saviors in the woods. Up until that cliffhanger ending, that tension was executed perfectly.
While I don’t think the tension here matches that, it’s still very well done. The moment that the survivors find themselves surrounded by the Whisperers in the woods, coupled with Beta saying that no one else had to die, you know that shit has gone south. We just don’t know when, how, or why. But we know that by episode’s all end, all will be revealed.
Before that, though, we get another looming threat in the form of Alpha’s massive herd. Think of this as a contingency plan. The Whisperers themselves are already a threat by virtue of being able to hide among the dead. But if their enemies don’t, then they have a huge herd of walkers. Forget about what we saw in “No Way Out.” This easily trumps that.
Don’t just take this as an idle threat. The fact that we’ve seen this massive walker herd just means that it will be used at some point. The show wouldn’t just let us see Alpha’s swarm of walkers if we weren’t going to see them tear through a community later.
Then…it happens. It fucking happens. When thinking about the border reveal, in my mind I wanted it to be stark. No music whatsoever. Just the rush of the wind and have the moment be completely stark as we see the heads on pikes.
But damn it all if Bear McCreary’s score didn’t captivate me from the second it kicked in. It was, in a word, haunting. Kind of like when “The Rains of Castamere” started playing before shit went down during the Red Wedding on Game of Thrones, the score spelled doom. Again, for me, it doesn’t reach “Last Day on Earth” levels of tension, but that doesn’t diminish how excellent this reveal was.
It played out exactly how issue #144 did, with the various heads being shown as people at the fair worried about them. Like many things on The Walking Dead, though, things are changed. With the comic, the biggest deaths at the border were Rosita and Ezekiel. As you can tell by episode’s end, they are alive and well.
I’m shocked that Ozzy of all people died. I literally said not too long ago that the show wouldn’t bring in a recognizable actor like Angus Sampson just to kill him off episodes later. Boy, was I wrong. It might not be a 1:1 recreation of issue #144, but it didn’t need to be. It just had to be strong enough to leave an impact on both the survivors and viewers alike.
So deaths like Addy, Rodney, and Frankie, yeah, those deaths hurt, but then you see Tammy. She’s been a vocal voice at the Hilltop and both she and Earl had been carrying for the abandoned Whisperer baby. So that definitely stings because she’d been coming into her own as a character.
Enid, Tara, and Henry were surprises, but at the same time, we had to lose somebody big. Enid and Tara in particular are huge losses for the Hilltop, especially Tara because that’s now two leaders that the Hilltop has lost in a short amount of time. Plus, it’s almost been a running gag with some sections of fandom that Tara has essentially dodged death several times since joining the survivors.
In the wake of Jesus’ death and Maggie still off with Georgie, the Hilltop is yet again without a leader. So the question is now whether Daryl will step up to fill that position, even after his attempt to help lead the Sanctuary didn’t go so well.
Henry, though. That’s a big deal for Ezekiel and Carol for sure, as well as Lydia. While he’d taken some of comic Carl’s storyline, Henry was also growing into his own. His relationship with Lydia had been blossoming and it looked like the kid had a promising future. But Alpha thought otherwise. I did really love Daryl immediately rushing to Carol and telling her to look at him instead of Henry’s reanimated face on a pike.
When I read and reviewed issue #144, the word that came to my mind was “shocking.” Here, as a result of the slow buildup coupled with Bear McCreary’s score, the word is “haunting.” It’s easily one of the best reveals of the series.
And yet, we could’ve just ended here. This easily could’ve served as the season finale, but we’ve got one more moment. But more than that, the reveal could’ve just ended the episode, dark as that might have been.
I don’t mind Siddiq’s speech to the people, but I do think it could’ve been saved for next episode. What it accomplishes, though, is twofold: for one, his speech helps keep everyone united when something like this could easily have torn them apart.
But with Siddiq’s speech, the show does something that the comic did not: we see the survivors captured. In the comics, we know that Alpha was at the fair, but we never saw her lure anyone away. We don’t see that here either, but we do see the survivors trapped and held hostage as they await their deaths.
The arrival of the Highwaymen and DJ, giving the survivors an opportunity to fight, was, admittedly, an uplifting moment. Even though they were going to die regardless, they still, as Siddiq said, fought like hell. It was great to see this additional content because while we didn’t need to see the survivors trapped, it was nice that they got help and used that opportunity to fight.
While DJ and the Highwaymen also sealed their own fates by being there, this proved that the Highwaymen have value to the other communities. Siddiq being left as the lone survivor to deliver the message also put a lot of pressure on him, but he carried himself well, despite the horrors of what he witnessed.
But remember, there’s still one more episode to go and winter is coming. All in all, “The Calm Before” was a very strong ending that brought to life one of the most horrific chapters in The Walking Dead comic. Ten survivors across the communities are dead. It’s not just one person died and that’s it. Alpha’s actions affect everyone involved, and even if they try to attack, Alpha still has that massive walker herd in the wings.
This was a good episode that became a great one with the reveal of the border. The tension was strong and the performances throughout helped elevate the big death reveal. While I do think we could’ve ended with the border and how this easily could work as a season finale, what we got here was still great and will no doubt go down as one of the most shocking episodes of The Walking Dead.
See you next week for the Season 9 finale.